Western Australian-based legspinner Alana King has beaten out fierce contenders to win a coveted spot in the Australian women’s cricket team Ashes squad to face England next week.
On Wednesday, Cricket Australia will unveil the 15-player squad, which it hopes will win its fourth-straight Ashes series, with big names returning including top bowlers Jess Jonassen and Megan Schutt.
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But with talented spinners Sophie Molineux and Georgia Wareham both out with injury, selectors were left with a tough decision as to how to fill their void, eventually opting to bring uncapped King into the Aussie set-up, ahead of South Australian leggie Amanda-Jade Wellington, who will instead be named in the Australia A squad.
The 26-year-old King, who had a stellar 2021 Women’s Big Bash season with champions Perth Scorchers taking 16 wickets, said her national call-up was a dream come true.
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“This is for that little girl who years ago just wanted to play the game because I loved it,” she said.
“I don’t think the smile’s going away anytime soon … I think I’ve even slept with a smile on my face.”
King, who relocated from Melbourne to Perth last year for greater cricketing opportunities, said she’d relished working alongside the WA coaches, including Scorchers mentor — and Aussie assistant coach — Shelley Nitschke.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in what I’m doing and that comes down to the environment that I’m in and it takes a whole organisation, not just a player, to get me to where I am,” she said.
“I always aspired to play for Australia and put on the green and gold … it will be a dream come true if it happens.
“I’ll be taking every opportunity and being a big sponge around the group and taking in as much as I can.”
King said national selector Shawn Flegler called her over the weekend with the good news, telling her she deserved her chance.
“I froze a little bit when his name popped up (on my phone) … he just said that they’ve seen a big change in me in the last 18 months and I’ve backed up another good WBBL performance,” she said.
“He said: ‘You deserve to be in this group and you should have full confidence going into the series’, which obviously I do after the way I’ve gone in the Big Bash, topped off with a big win in the WBBL final.”
Teenage quick Darcie Brown and Adelaide Strikers captain Tahlia McGrath are widely regarded to have done plenty to warrant re-selection, alongside the team’s standout stars: captain Meg Lanning, vice-captain Rachael Haynes and superstars Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy.
Cricket Australia also unveiled a 15-player Australia A squad, which features some surprises, including the return of much-loved Victorian (currently playing for Tasmania), Elyse Villani, who’s earned a call-up to the Australia A side, alongside her Tassie teammate Heather Graham. Both Villani and Graham last played for the Australian team in 2019.
The multi-format Ashes series gets underway on January 20, with three T20Is to be played at Adelaide Oval before the teams head to Canberra for a one-off Test and finishing in Melbourne with the remaining one-day internationals.
Australia Ashes squad: Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes (vice-captain), Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Meg Lanning (Capt), Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck
Australia A squad: Maitlan Brown, Erin Burns, Stella Campbell, Nicole Faltum, Tess Flintoff, Heather Graham, Grace Harris, Phoebe Litchfield, Katie Mack , Georgia Redmayne (Capt), Courtney Sippel, Molly Strano, Elyse Villani, Georgia Voll, Amanda-Jade Wellington
Battle plan to beat Covid during Ashes series
Australian cricket selectors are preparing for players to miss parts of the women’s Ashes series, believing it is almost inevitable players will test positive for Covid despite a raft of measures put in place to protect the squad.
Selectors will name bigger than anticipated Ashes and Australia A squads to ensure there is enough depth in the playing pool to cover the seven-match multi-format series in the event of players testing positive to Covid as the virus’s highly contagious omicron variant sweeps around the country.
National selector and head of performance for women’s cricket, Shawn Flegler said officials were finalising strict protocols to protect both the Australian and England teams, who are desperate to remain free of the virus to ensure they can take part in the Ashes and ICC World Cup, which follows, in New Zealand.
Both teams are scheduled to head across the ditch to start a 10-day quarantine process in New Zealand the day after the Ashes series is complete.
But any player testing positive to the virus in the final stages of the Ashes is likely to be ruled out of the 50-over tournament.
“The way that we’re looking at it is we have to be prepared that there’ll be players who will miss games (due to Covid),” Flegler said.
“The strength that we do have is we’ve got a number of player who could come in and take the place of someone who does have Covid.
“So we’re in a fortunate position. Hopefully it doesn’t happen, but I think that’s what we’re planning for just in case.
“What we’ve seen over the last few weeks with the Big Bash has shown that you can’t expect that you’re going to go through a full series without some sort of issue.
“So whether it’s an injury or whether it’s Covid, we’ll just have to adjust pretty much every day.”
The rapid spread of the disease around the country and the path it has cut through sport despite protocols, hubs and bubbles has meant players will face strict conditions throughout the Ashes.
The series has been brought forward a week to start on January 20 with three T20 matches in Adelaide and squads will be transported on charter flights between formats (the Adelaide T20s, Canberra Test and opening ODI and final ODIs in Melbourne).
Dining in restaurants will be banned and indoor contact and training will be minimised as much as possible.
But risks remain.
“We need to be careful that we if someone does get Covid, it doesn’t take out the whole series,” Flegler said.
“It really is a day-to-day proposition. We just need to be really careful about protocols and the players and staff are aware of some of the issues that might pop up.”
The Australian players are not the only ones at risk, with England’s squad only needing to cast an eye towards the men’s Ashes group to see the havoc that Covid can cause.
“We need to keep in mind England as well, their focus is on the Ashes but also defending their World Cup title,” Flegler said.
“So they’re very keen to make sure that all the players are available, and we’ll be doing the same.
“So if we do have to tighten things down towards the back end of the series, we’ll look to do that.
“But again, we’re trying to balance that with making sure that players and staff can try and live some sort of normality.
“It’s not normal, let’s be honest. But we want to try and make it as comfortable as possible and make sure they’re getting into a position where they can perform on the field but they’re still happy and enjoying what’s not a normal touring life.
“It’s not how we used to tour. Things are very different now but we’ll just try and do the best we can.”
Ashes series dates changed to combat Covid chaos
Australian captain Meg Lanning say her team feels privileged to still be able to play the Ashes series against England as Covid rips through international sport.
Cricket Australia (CA) has confirmed the women’s Ashes will be brought forward a week to ensure Australia and England have enough time to complete a mandatory quarantine period in New Zealand ahead of the Women’s World Cup in March.
The multi-format series will begin a week earlier than planned, with the first of three T20 internationals held at Adelaide Oval on January 20.
All three T20s will now be held in Adelaide, ahead of the Test match on January 27-30 at Canberra’s Manuka Oval.
Canberra will also host the first one-day international on February 3, with the final two ODIs at Melbourne’s Junction Oval on February 6 and 8 to round out the clash between the world’s top two women’s teams.
Lanning backed the shift and said the Aussies would be ready.
“I think it’s a good move in the end, it’s great that we’ve still got all three formats involved in the Ashes, which sounds like it might have been a bit tricky to get in,” Lanning said.
“With the isolation period in New Zealand heading into that World Cup, both us and England wanted to have the best chance of preparing and by moving (the Ashes) forward a little bit and making a few changes, that allowed that.
“There’s lots of work going on behind the scenes but it’s great that all three formats are still being played.”
CA can also confirm the schedule for the Australia v England A series which will feature three T20s and three 50-over fixtures running concurrently with the Ashes.
The annual Governor-General’s XI match will not proceed as planned, with the tour match expected to return next season.
But with Covid cutting a path through sport around the world, including the men’s Ashes series, Lanning said the players felt grateful to be able to play at all.
“The Ashes is a really important series, it’s something as a player you really look forward to being a part of,” she said.
“We’re very lucky that a lot of people are putting in a lot of hard work to get it up and running.
“Things are changing so quickly, it feels like you make plans and then the next day it’s got to be something different, so it must be a nightmare to get the schedule lined up.
“But we feel very lucky that we’re still able to go ahead with out series and hopefully it can be a really competitive series – England are a very well established, world-class team, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Cricket Australia CEO, Nick Hockley, said the organisation was grateful to all parties for their flexibility in allowing changes to the series schedule.
“We are looking forward to a fantastic series between probably the two best teams in the world, with each side being current T20 and ODI world champions respectively,” Hockley said.
“Regrettably, logistical considerations have meant that we have had to move two T20 games from North Sydney Oval, which has long been the home of the women’s game in Sydney, and it is also disappointing that the annual Governor-General’s XI match scheduled to be played at Drummoyne Oval is unable to proceed this season.
“We thank cricket fans in Sydney for their understanding and have no doubt that the three T20Is at Adelaide Oval will set the tone for a great series.”
Squads for the Australia and Australia A teams are expected to be announced next week.